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Nicato 01-23-2007 05:53 AM

The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
(May offend.)

Biologist Richard Dawkins made a two-part documentary which attacked religious faith, featuring several religious figures (including the recently outted Paul Haggard).

Filmmaker Rod Liddle made a rebuttal claiming that atheists can be just as fundamentalist as their religious counterparts and that it is not religious faith per se which is at the root of all evil, featuring Richard Dawkins himself among others.

Both BBC (Channel 4) documentaries are available online. View them; discuss.

The Root of Evil? Part 1.
The Root of Evil? Part 2.
Trouble With Atheism.

Nicato 01-23-2007 08:04 AM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Liddle makes an oversight in his piece. He basically claims that because atheists believe in Darwinism and Darwinism's core principles leave no room for what we call morality, Darwinism therefore leaves no room for morality it all. Although "natural selection" and "survival of the fittests" are core principles of Darwinism there is a Darwinian explanation for morality.

Mortality is a meme (coincidentally, a term which Dawkins coined), a viral entity which infects the vast majority of us. Those of us who are not infected by it suffer a sort of artificial selection: the people who steal and kill are imprisoned; the people who are antisocial are socially shunned; the people throughout history who are immoral (like Hitler or Stalin) are vilified and people who were moral visionaries (like Jesus or Confucius) are praised centuries after their deaths. It follows then that morality can be considered a "fit" property of humans. Further, memes are themselves evolved* and thus subjected to all the core principles of Darwinism.

*And our morality has evolved! Here in the States people are generally less sexist and racist than they would have been as little as fifty years ago. (Ironically, atheists are one of the few people who could be still be considered true outcasts in even liberal American society. As the comedian Bill Maher said, we have a more diverse Congress, one that looks like America, but there are no diversity of ideas.)

Nicato 01-23-2007 02:46 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
As to Riddle's non sequitur, what's stopping Darwinists from adopting Eugenics? I can give a scientific answer to that.

Darwinin's is a theory of evolution by natural selection. Two of the predominate things which effect the evolution of a species are its environment and random mutations. Eugenics, conversely, is a process of artificial selection which, at time of its conception until now, cannot adequately account for our natural environment and does anything but promote random mutations. While the result of Evolution on Earth is a process of five billion years of slow, gradual changes, Eugenics, being subjected to man's ideal of fitness, is inherently shortsighted.

Let's put it this way: most of the functions of our brains are unconscious. We breath in air, our hearts beat without so much of a conscious thought. When we are ill, we don't tell our bodies to deploy white blood cells and when injured we don't tell our bodies to heal our wounds. We aren't conscious of these actions and frankly we don't need to be. The responsibility required for proper Eugenics is like the responsibility required for giving us conscious control over even the most basic unconscious functions of our brain. (In which case we'd all be dead within minutes.)

Also, lest we forget, nobody is perfect. You may have a genetically intelligent, attractive woman*, but what if she has a hereditary inclination for breast cancer? Does Eugenics see her as fit or unfit? Chances are that we all have genetic "defects" of one kind or another. The question is by what criteria are we deeming fitness and how do we know enough to know that the defects aren't in some way advantages? (For example, people with a natural inclination toward obsessive compulsive behavior are as productive as they are annoying.) Further, as Eugenics by its nature (pun intended) frowns upon random mutations, it may end up limiting our further evolution altogether.

Selective breeding works for animals because they often serve us very few direct purposes, chief of which are our consumption. Humans, on the other hand, serve multiple purposes to other humans. While practicing homosexuals may not pass their genes on to the next generation, they are just as capable as anyone else of producing memes through engineering, architecture, literature, fashion, music, medicine, culture and so on.

Finally, the advancements in medicine may defeat the purpose of selective breeding altogether. Don't know about you, but I'd rather identify and modify the gene which causes an allergic reaction to peanuts than I would stop those who suffer from it from fucking.

See, there is a rational, scientific argument against Eugenics, even in spite of it being morally flat wrong.

*And I do stress "may have" because I'm not convinced that "intelligence" is all that different between the average human.

Mike Doolittle 01-23-2007 04:39 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Nicato (Post 130170)
Liddle makes an oversight in his piece. He basically claims that because atheists believe in Darwinism and Darwinism's core principles leave no room for what we call morality, Darwinism therefore leaves no room for morality it all.

I don't think that's exactly his assertion. His assertion is intended to rebut the arguments of strict atheists by asserting that Darwinism fails to solve the problem of morality; the morality of atheism is ultimately subject to the same arbitrary delineations that it's given by religion.

Numerous scientific disciplines are exploring the evolution of religion and social norms, including sociology, anthropology and evolutionary biology. Certain atheists are asserting that religion is essentially worthless and that science tells us everything we need in order to live. But describing the biological and sociocultural origins of morality doesn't solve the problem of morality by creating some sort of "rationally moral" set of principles that we should follow. It can only describe, in general, the consequent-relative nature of human morality. It doesn't change the fact that moral decisions are secondary to an intuitive, irrational thought process.

Nicato 01-23-2007 06:21 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Mike Doolittle (Post #4):
I don't think that's exactly his assertion. His assertion is intended to rebut the arguments of strict atheists by asserting that Darwinism fails to solve the problem of morality; the morality of atheism is ultimately subject to the same arbitrary delineations that it's given by religion.

If that is the case then he is arguing against a man of straw, as I don't know any prominent intellectual atheists who would disagree with that. I know, at least, that Dawkins concedes as much when he asserts that most moderate believers use their morality to decide what is religious, rather than use their religion to decide what is moral; that the criterion by which we choose what is moral from our holy books is incumbent upon all of us.

Liddle should have named names.

Quote:

Numerous scientific disciplines are exploring the evolution of religion and social norms, including sociology, anthropology and evolutionary biology.
I would also add evolutionary psychology to your list. EP basically links modern human nature to the behavior of our ancestors in hunter-gatherer colonies. (Unfortunately, there is a lot to link.)

Quote:

But describing the biological and sociocultural origins of morality doesn't solve the problem of morality by creating some sort of "rationally moral" set of principles that we should follow. It can only describe, in general, the consequent-relative nature of human morality. It doesn't change the fact that moral decisions are secondary to an intuitive, irrational thought process.
I don't know if I agree with that. I think people would have to study the biological and sociocultural origins of morality on a mass scale before your hypothesis can be tested. I mean, as of 2007, most people have a skewed, intellectually void version morality's origins. I think there is a certain humility you get when you realize how fragile morality is once you put it out of the absolution of "God made it."

As to your second point, that the human thought process is inherently irrational and intuitive, I agree. However, I do believe that us humans have the capacity to adopt a more rational thought process, we just need only to become more conscious.

Mike Doolittle 01-23-2007 06:54 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Nicato (Post 130195)
If that is the case then he is arguing against a man of straw, as I don't know any prominent intellectual atheists who would disagree with that. I know, at least, that Dawkins concedes as much when he asserts that most moderate believers use their morality to decide what is religious, rather than use their religion to decide what is moral; that the criterion by which we choose what is moral from our holy books is incumbent upon all of us.

He was responding to the notion that science solves the moral problems created by fervent religious devotion. He makes the point that it is human nature, irrespective of religion, that drives people against each other. His obviously rhetorical suggestion that we take Eugeniks to its logical extreme was an example of how the abandonment of theological concepts if favor of a strictly positivist viewpoint does not inherently preclude a more compassionate society.




Quote:

I don't know if I agree with that. I think people would have to study the biological and sociocultural origins of morality on a mass scale before your hypothesis can be tested. I mean, as of 2007, most people have a skewed, intellectually void version morality's origins. I think there is a certain humility you get when you realize how fragile morality is once you put it out of the absolution of "God made it."
I agree, and moral absolutism is logically absurd, but that's not really what I was getting at.

Quote:

As to your second point, that the human thought process is inherently irrational and intuitive, I agree. However, I do believe that us humans have the capacity to adopt a more rational thought process, we just need only to become more conscious.
Sure, I agree. But let me give you an example. If a person decides to visit his lonely, dying friend in the hospital, you might be able to find a variety of scientific explanations for the behavior – i.e., a host of factors that may influence his desire to see his friend rather than, say, sit at home and watch TV. But in the mind of this person, he is never going to be thinking, "I am going to go visit my friend because [insert rational, scientific reason]." He is going to say, "I'm visiting my friend because I care about him and it's the right thing to do." All science does is observe and explain natural phenomena. Any behavior is by definition a natural phenomenon that can be observed and presumably explained in some way. But being able to explain a behavior's sociocultural, psychological or evolutionary influences doesn't necessarily bring us any closer to helping us define the moral paradigms that guide our actions.

Nicato 01-23-2007 07:52 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Mike Doolittle (Post #6):
Sure, I agree. But let me give you an example. If a person decides to visit his lonely, dying friend in the hospital, you might be able to find a variety of scientific explanations for the behavior – i.e., a host of factors that may influence his desire to see his friend rather than, say, sit at home and watch TV. But in the mind of this person, he is never going to be thinking, "I am going to go visit my friend because [insert rational, scientific reason]." He is going to say, "I'm visiting my friend because I care about him and it's the right thing to do."

I see your point, but I did not suggest that we should adopt a strictly rational thought process, only a "more rational thought process." Of course, it isn't practical (or even possible) to calculate every event of your day in terms of whether it is or is not rationalism. I'm basically saying that the problem of humanity isn't that we are just way too rational. And I don't think we're disagreeing it all.

Quote:

He was responding to the notion that science solves the moral problems created by fervent religious devotion. He makes the point that it is human nature, irrespective of religion, that drives people against each other.
Sure he was. And he did make that point well. But now we're drifting away from my original complaint, which was in making that point was arguing against a straw man?

Quote:

His obviously rhetorical suggestion that we take Eugeniks to its logical extreme was an example of how the abandonment of theological concepts if favor of a strictly positivist viewpoint does not inherently preclude a more compassionate society.
I don't know if Liddle was being all that rhetorical. I mean, he did harp on that point for a good while. He seems to me to be clearly saying that Eugenics follow Darwinism, so Darwinists should follow Eugenics.

I do think the question of whether there is a vacuum which religion currently fills is an interesting one. But, again, if people were only more rational (and genuinely curious), I think they'd find that the awe of looking up at starry sky (which is, in fact, looking back in time) can be just as satisfying as any religious experience. For me, at least, the vacuum is filled.

Mike Doolittle 01-23-2007 08:48 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Nicato (Post 130200)
Sure he was. And he did make that point well. But now we're drifting away from my original complaint, which was in making that point was arguing against a straw man?

Well, I didn't really take it as a straw man because I didn't feel that he was saying, "If you're an atheist, then you have to believe in Eugenics." I don't really feel as though it was an attack against atheism, but rather a mindset of some atheists.



Quote:

I do think the question of whether there is a vacuum which religion currently fills is an interesting one. But, again, if people were only more rational (and genuinely curious), I think they'd find that the awe of looking up at starry sky (which is, in fact, looking back in time) can be just as satisfying as any religious experience. For me, at least, the vacuum is filled.
Speaking as someone who's been all over the map on religious experiences, I don't feel that you necessarily have to be a religious or spiritual person to live a happy, fulfilling life; or that being a positivist necessarily leads to a more fulfilling life either.

Personally, I've never felt comfortable with the idea of atheism, because it assumes that anything that can't be quantified is impossible to know, and if it can't be quantifiably known than it might as well not be known. I think that overlooks some of the key aspects of the human experience. I'd be happy go into detail but I already wrote about it in my blog here.

Avptallarita 01-24-2007 04:48 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Even if scientists agree that the Big Bang is how our universe began, that doesn't explain how all that energy and matter got there in the first place.
I don't understand what you're saying. What's the logical reasoning according to which if something exists than it has to have "got here"? Why is existence something that has to come into being?

Also, I don't agree with your argument that atheism is a choice or an act of Will. Despite being an atheist, in the past I have approached christians and the christian church, read the gospel, and repeatedly attempted to "open myself" to God. You know what happened? Nothing. That's the only reason I don't believe in God, because there's nothing that gives me any reason to do so, not because I have an alternative explanation on how the universe works. (though I admit to never having approached any religion other than christianity).

Avptallarita 01-24-2007 05:06 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Oh and something else. I'm probably nitpicking here, but what the hell, I might as well put this down:

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mike Doolittle (Post 130202)
Personally, I've never felt comfortable with the idea of atheism, because it assumes that anything that can't be quantified is impossible to know, and if it can't be quantifiably known than it might as well not be known.

I think that what atheism does is not to claim that the objects of the universe must be quantifiable; rather, it identifies our faculty of knowledge with our faculty for quantitative (and qualitative) judgement.* Thus, it's not saying that there is nothing out there that cannot be quantified, but that anything that can't, must appeal to something in ourselves that is not our system of knowledge (or system of reasoning, understanding), and thus cannot lay the claim to being "knowledge". It does not exclude the set of human experiences that constitute faith, it's just saying that they're something different from what we understand as knowledge.

* Though one should note that atheism is not a set of written principles or beliefs, and thus you cannot ascribe an intention to it. It doesn't "say" anything of itself; we're only inferring things from it.

Mike Doolittle 01-24-2007 05:34 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Avptallarita (Post 130226)
I don't understand what you're saying. What's the logical reasoning according to which if something exists than it has to have "got here"? Why is existence something that has to come into being?

I'm not suggesting a "God of the Gaps" where scientific blanks infer the existence of God. It's an illustration to say that belief in a God isn't unreasonable. I thought Liddle really hit it well when he was talking about physics and the creation of the universe.

If there's no God, then the universe always existed in some form or another. But this would violate our known laws of physics because energy can't perpetuate itself infinitely or come out of nothing. All the energy in the universe is finite stars for example expend their fuel, explode, die, and become black holes. They don't just magically keep producing energy forever. That's why the oscillatory universe theory was scrapped (it violates the second law of thermodynamics), and why the only true "infinite universe" theory is string theory's idea of an infinite number of other universes that have the ability to spawn additional universes and I don't know that such a far-out and untestable "theory" answers any more questions than it raises.

I don't think this proves God exists or anything, much less that any specific God exists, but it at least demonstrates that there isn't anything irrational about believing life might have been created.

Quote:

Also, I don't agree with your argument that atheism is a choice or an act of Will. Despite being an atheist, in the past I have approached christians and the christian church, read the gospel, and repeatedly attempted to "open myself" to God. You know what happened? Nothing. That's the only reason I don't believe in God, because there's nothing that gives me any reason to do so, not because I have an alternative explanation on how the universe works. (though I admit to never having approached any religion other than christianity).
Then how is that not your choice? You don't have to limit yourself to Christianity, or any religion for that matter. I think think the issue of whether we "need" spirituality is completely subjective. Some people feel a deep, intuitive spiritual connection to the world, and some don't. Faith and spirituality are important to me, but many people feel they don't need it. I'm not going to tell anyone they're "wrong", but I do think that spirituality is a unique and valuable part of the human experience; and that while skepticism is healthy, a total abandonment of spirituality may be misguided.

Mike Doolittle 01-24-2007 05:36 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Avptallarita (Post 130227)
I think that what atheism does is not to claim that the objects of the universe must be quantifiable; rather, it identifies our faculty of knowledge with our faculty for quantitative (and qualitative) judgement.* Thus, it's not saying that there is nothing out there that cannot be quantified, but that anything that can't, must appeal to something in ourselves that is not our system of knowledge (or system of reasoning, understanding), and thus cannot lay the claim to being "knowledge". It does not exclude the set of human experiences that constitute faith, it's just saying that they're something different from what we understand as knowledge.

I completely agree, but only to the extent that you assume that rational knowledge is the only kind of knowledge there is. Faith is by definition an "intuitive knowledge."

Nicato 01-24-2007 07:20 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Mike Doolittle (Post #11):
I'm not suggesting a "God of the Gaps" where scientific blanks infer the existence of God. It's an illustration to say that belief in a God isn't unreasonable.

Well, as always, you have to qualify these things.

The Deistic god of which you speak--God as a first uncaused cause--might be a possibility. But as it is only one an infinite number of equally plausible possibilities, I don't find it reasonable to actively believe in it.

(Further, most people do not believe in that god. Billions of people believe in a personal god that gives a fuck about us; one that answers prayers and keeps tabs on our Earthly affairs; one that is omnipotent and omniscient and morally perfect. That god is flatly incompatible with the relative anarchy of the world.)

Mike Doolittle 01-24-2007 07:36 PM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Nicato (Post 130236)
The Deistic god of which you speak--God as a first uncaused cause--might be a possibility. But as it is only one an infinite number of equally plausible possibilities, I don't find it reasonable to actively believe in it.

I'm not speaking of a deistic god per se. I'm speaking of the basic creative concept of any higher power. And, there are not an "infinite number of equally plausible possibilities." This only occurs when you start arbitrarily defining traits of this higher power. I think it's only natural than humans would want to personify God. But it's erroneous to think that this is between Jesus and the Invisible Pink Unicorn. It's between the concept of a creative god and a self-perpetuating universe.

Quote:

Further, most people do not believe in that god. Billions of people believe in a personal god that gives a fuck about us; one that answers prayers and keeps tabs on our Earthly affairs; one that is omnipotent and omniscient and morally perfect. That god is flatly incompatible with the relative anarchy of the world.
What you're really defining are traits of the Christian God, and your use of certain terms seems to have implicit assumptions that Christians might not agree with. But a personal god need not be incompatible with the world the way it is. Or do you think that no devout Christian has ever pondered those questions?


EDIT: I thought this was good reading about David Hume:

The argument from design infers that we can infer a single designer from our experience of the world. Though Hume agrees that we have experiences of the world as an artifact, he claims that we cannot make any probable inference from this fact to quality, power, or number of the artisans. Second, Hume argues that miracles are not only often unreliable grounds as evidence for belief, but in fact are apriori impossible. A miracle by definition is a transgression of a law of nature, and yet by their very nature these laws admit of no exceptions. Thus we cannot even call it a law of nature that has been violated. He concludes that reason and experience fail to establish divine infinity, God's moral attributes, or any specification of the ongoing relationship between the Deity and man. But rather than concluding that his stance towards religious beliefs was one of atheism or even a mere Deism, Hume argued that he was a genuine Theist. He believed that we have a genuine natural sentiment by which we long for heaven. The one who is aware of the inability of reason to affirm these truths in fact is the person who can grasp revealed truth with the greatest avidity.

From here. Good stuff about Kant (the original) too.

Avptallarita 01-25-2007 03:22 AM

Re: The Root of all Evil/Trobule With Atheism
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Mike Doolittle (Post 130228)
I'm not suggesting a "God of the Gaps" where scientific blanks infer the existence of God. It's an illustration to say that belief in a God isn't unreasonable. I thought Liddle really hit it well when he was talking about physics and the creation of the universe.

If I've understood you correctly, your argument goes about like this (correct me if I'm wrong):

1.) We cannot account for the origins of the universe.
2.) We cannot account for the origins of God.
3.) Therefore, it is equally reasonable to believe in both.

If that is your argument, then my objection is that no one is claiming to account for the origins of the universe; all we (atheists) are saying is that the origins of the universe CAN be accounted for, and they CAN be understood according to the principles of reason (regardless of the fact that we haven't done so just yet; in terms of knowledge, atheistic belief doesn't imply closure, while theistic does). The reason why this is more sustainable than the theistic alternative is that the latter is contradictory; you cannot postulate a being which transcends our faculties of reason, because to postulate is itself an act of reason.

I'd have a few more things to say, but I'd like to leave it at that for the moment, as this is the issue that most concerns me.


EDIT: Let me restate, btw, that being an atheist does not exclude parts of our experience that transcend issues of knowledge / verifiability, as one can see in my old (but still not completely disowned) post in this discussion: http://www.gamecritics.com/forums/sh...ad.php?t=10778


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